Advocacy is relatively new to Enfield Board of Education member Sarah Selvaggi-Hernandez, an "open and proud autistic" politician and professor.
It was not until taking office last year that Hernandez noticed that there are not many votes in politics for people with disabilities, she said.
Since then, Hernandez, a 38-year-old professor of occupational therapy at Bay Path University in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, has said that she has used every opportunity to talk to people as their own advocates, surpassing others' expectations.
"You can and should be the most influential voice in your life," Hernandez told a group of High Road Academy students in Wallingford on Tuesday. "Be brave in defining who you are and how you want to lead this life."
The High Road Academy is one of 1
The schools offer standard high school curriculum along with physical therapy, occupational therapy and other services.
Hernandez visited the school Tuesday and made a presentation to students, as part of the Autism Awareness Month. She encouraged her to practice the things that make her nervous, and to engage in politics when they are interested.
"People with different abilities can provide important perspectives needed in the political process," Hernandez said. "Who is better at finding creative solutions to difficult problems than people with different skills? We need to navigate successfully through a world that was not created for us every day."
Sue Gilleaudeau, education director of the High Road Academy, said "The connection between Hernandez and the students is a key to showing them that they have great opportunities. They can be as high as they want, "Gilleaudeau said," Just because you diagnosed a disability does not mean it's the end of the road. "
Gilleaudeau said she had last in October She first said to Hernandez that she was excited to find someone who could talk to her school students about high performance, despite the low expectations that normally apply to students with disabilities.
"It is important that our kids know that, maybe I'm a little bit different, maybe I'm learning another way, but I'll be able to go on and do something good, "she said.
Tyler Wahl, 17, said he shares many of the challenges Hernandez especially talked about dealing with people's expectations, and the right guidance helped him focus on his own goals, he said.
"People told me I did not can, because I'm autistic, and I started believing that, but teachers say, do not worry about that, "Wahl said. "When I was in middle school, I did not know how to read, and people told me, 'You're the only person who can tell you that you can read and you hold back.' When I stopped I myself can read very well now and can do many things I can not. "
Wahl's main goal now is to be able to do a good job after graduation, he said.
Hernandez said she did not think much about advocacy until she was elected last year. Now, "if someone extends an opportunity, I'll take it," she said.
"To run in the election in the perspective of why it is important for autistic adults to be visible," she said.